Defensive linemen Alan Branch (left) and Gabe Watson show off their slimmer figures during the first practice of camp Saturday.
FLAGSTAFF – Over and over, coach Ken Whisenhunt has talked about wanting competition everywhere. It pushes his players to be better, and creates a better team.
It also has an effect on players coming into training camp.
The weighty story of the morning Saturday was whether guard Deuce Lutui, who had packed on way too many pounds when he signed in June, could pass the conditioning test. He did, and is down to 360 pounds (although the coaches want him in the low 340s). But on the other side were defensive tackles Alan Branch and Gabe Watson, each of whom have come in considerably lighter than in the past.
Branch weighed 326 Saturday, and said he was at 324 when he took his physical Friday. Watson is at "exactly 323.8," or about 11 pounds lighter than the Cards had asked. It's no coincidence that with No. 1 pick Dan Williams – who has yet to sign – and veteran Bryan Robinson also playing the nose tackle, there may be too many players and not enough jobs.
"It's not going to be easy piercing that top lineup," Branch acknowledged.
Branch and Watson were each running with the second team Saturday, with Watson at the nose and Branch at an end in the 3-4 alignment. That flexibility with Branch (which Robinson also has) could eventually allow the Cards to keep all four players, depending on how everyone plays.
Branch admitted he wasn't mature enough when he first got into the league to watch his weight, but said he has learned "how to eat." Watson said he wasn't about excuses, but acknowledged the knee surgery he went through during the 2008 offseason never healed right and kept him from doing too much on the knee.
"I feel way better, my knee feels way better," Watson said. "(The competition) is motivation, but before, I just couldn't do, my body wouldn't do, what I wanted it to do."
Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was back on the field after missing many of the OTAs this summer with a bad toe. It was DRC's knee that had surgery right after the season, however, and while he wasn't missing any time Saturday, he still doesn't sound 100 percent sure he is 100 percent.
"It's so-so," DRC said. "I can be as good as they want me to be. They say I am 100, so I'm going to be 100. Personally, I can get through it. If there was a game Sunday, I can play."
The toe isn't an issue anymore, he said. As for the mental-vs.-physical part of coming back from a knee injury, "I am thinking they go hand-in-hand." But, he added, "it's probably a little more mental."
DOCKETT HAPPY FOR NOW
Defensive end Darnell Dockett admitted he had considered not coming to camp because of his contract situation and his desire to get a new deal. Saturday, he talked about losing friends and defensive cohorts Karlos Dansby and Antrel Rolle, players he wanted to keep around. "We have to start keeping our guys around here because those guys are true warriors," he said. "That's how you build a powerhouse."
Someone mentioned the Cards could start by signing Dockett long-term.
"I'm not worried about it," Dockett said. "It'll take care of itself. Right now I am happy I am here. I am. I am excited. I couldn't even sleep last night. I was like a little kid on Christmas. I honestly believe I love this game for all the right reasons and everything will take care of itself."
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